The Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court has charged two journalists and five land protestors with intentional violence and incitement to commit a felony.
Court spokesman Lim Bun Heng said the seven suspects were charged on Monday after being arrested by military police at a land protest in Sihanoukville’s Bei commune on Friday.
Bun Heng identified the two journalists as Hun Sokha, 46, president of the Club of Independent Journalists; and Keo Ratana, 33, publisher of TN Online. He said the other five suspects were Hang Sophea, 49; Hang Chenda, 51; Sen Leakhena, 32; Pen Sinath, 57; and Heng Yorng 50.
The two journalists were charged with incitement to commit a felony, which carries a jail term of six months to two years; and being an accomplice to intentional violence, which is punishable by two to five years’ imprisonment.
The five protestors were also charged with extortion, which can also earn a two- to five-year jail sentence, he said.
“The prosecutor sent them to the investigative judge to continue questioning,” Bun Heng said.
A letter issued on Saturday by the Club of Independent Journalists, signed by deputy president Leang Sopheak, requested Information Minister Khieu Kanharith to intervene in the case.
The letter said the arrests and accusations against the two were unjust because they had merely gone to collect information from the protesters in Bei commune’s Muoy village.
Both journalists had simply shot video of the protest and left the scene without incident, and it was wrong to accuse them of unprofessional conduct, the letter said.
Sokha and Ratana were arrested later in the day while seeking information for another case near the provincial hall, it said.
Two people in civilian clothes arrested them and took them to the provincial military police headquarters, it said.
“Please, information minister, help by intervening to free the two journalists,” it said.
Thirty to 40 journalists from Preah Sihanouk traveled to the capital to make their case to the Information Ministry, said the ministry’s press center department director Yem Noy.
“They asked the information minister to intervene with the provincial court to release the two journalists, and now they’ve collected thumbprints from their journalists for a petition to submit to the ministry on Wednesday,” Noy said.
“The ministry has not come to a decision on this case yet, but we will monitor it in more detail,” he added.
Sieng Buntong, the CIJ’s secretary-general, said there were in fact 60 journalists who traveled from Preah Sihanouk to support Sokha and Ratana.
“They are innocent,” Bunton said of the arrested pair, adding that he was still collecting signatures for the petition.
Pen Bona, president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), said he simply hoped the court provides justice.
“Before we write or publish any stories, we need to check with … many sources to get balance,” said Bona, who is also editor-in-chief of PNN, a television station owned by ruling party senator Ly Yong Phat.
Pich Sros, president of Cambodian Youth Party (CYP), also backed the journalists in a message on Facebook on Sunday, saying the journalists’ activities should be protected under the Press Law.